MANILA—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has ordered an investigation on why a 61-year-old detainee of the Manila Police remained in detention despite the dismissal of his drug case.
According to reports, Api Ang was arrested on Nov. 21 last year by members of the Manila Police who raided his hotel room and allegedly found drugs, drug paraphernalia and ammunition.
The case against Ang was dismissed by Manila’s City Prosecution Office and was automatically reviewed by the Office of the Justice Secretary. Despite the dismissal of his case however, Ang remained in detention until his demise last month.
Aguirre on Thursday pointed out that Ang’s continued detention could be due to confusion over issuances of the past administration. He referred to Department Circular No. 022, issued Feb. 12, 2013 by then secretary Leila de Lima, on the “Guidelines on the Release of Respondents/Accused Pending Automatic Review of Dismissed Cases involving Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act)”.
Under the circular, certain respondents, when arrested, shall remain in detention while their respective cases are under automatic review, despite the dismissal of the preliminary investigation of their cases.
This was amended by Department Circular No. 050, issued Dec. 18, 2015 by then secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, which requires that the respondent be immediately released from detention, pending the automatic review only if the case is not resolved within 30 days.
Observing that these circulars violate the people’s right to liberty, Aguirre said he issued a circular last January “to rectify this grave wrong”.
”Department Circular No. 004, which I issued on Jan. 4, 2017, provides that notwithstanding the automatic review of cases covered by RA No. 9165 and involving the maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the respondent shall immediately be released from detention unless detained for other causes,” Aguirre said. “I have ordered an investigation into why this provision was not observed in the case of Mr. Ang.”
He said the department abides by the Constitution and, “as a matter of high policy, directs all its officials and personnel to ensure that no person shall unduly suffer prolonged detention once his or her case has been dismissed, even if the same should be subjected to an appeal or review”.
The justice chief lamented that a detainee had to die before this department found out about the confusion over the circulars of the past administration.
Aguirre said he has already instructed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the circumstances leading to the arrest and subsequent death of Ang, and why he was not released upon the dismissal of the criminal complaint against him, and the status of the automatic review of his case.
He noted that the NBI is currently conducting an investigation on possible violations of the law by police officers responsible for the arrest and death of Ang.
He has also ordered City Prosecutor Edward Togonon to explain the reasons and circumstances behind Ang’s continued detention.
“All those responsible will be held accountable,” Aguirre said.